Forage minute |

Forage minute


Making, transporting, and feeding hay is a large investment in time, equipment and money. How can you reduce loss of hay during feeding to make that investment go further?

There are many ways to feed hay, with each method impacting waste differently. If hay is fed unrestricted, cattle can waste 45 percent of the hay they are provided. Limit feeding hay so only what is required is fed, will significantly reduce waste right away. Studies show that cattle fed daily versus fed every four days, needed 25% less hay. That’s a huge amount, but labor and equipment cost slightly increased.

A common and usually labor efficient method of feeding is to feed hay directly onto the ground by unrolling bales, distributing ground hay or loose hay, and bale pod grazing. With any of these methods, there should only be enough feed distributed or available for one day.

Bale pod grazing might be another consideration. Bales are spread out across a field or pasture and temporary fence is used to confine animal access to one or several bales. When it’s time for more hay, the producer moves a fence instead of moving a bale. The losses will depend on herd size, however, because this relates to limiting feeding or limiting access.

Limiting access by physical barriers is another way to decrease hay loss. Bale rings, racks, fences, feed bunks, bale pod grazing, or another form of limited access can all decrease waste. These methods work by reducing trampling and animal ability to lay down on the hay. The most effective physical barriers have solid side bottoms. This prevents the hay being pulled out onto the ground. While these methods are effective, they require the purchase of additional equipment which for large herds or changing feeding location can add significant time and money.

No matter the improved method, reducing fed hay losses will improve the return on the hay investment.


As humans, we often like to try and compare things to average or normal. Was the precipitation received within the expected normal range? Were temperatures for a particular season outside of normal? Was our pasture or hay production in the range we consider normal?

Taking this time to look back on last year is beneficial, but resist the temptation to compare things to normal. Very rarely, do things in the ever-changing world of agriculture really meet average or normal.

Depending on where you live in Nebraska, 2021 may have been too dry or just right. Even if we stick to one location, depending on the time of year, temperatures may have been too cold or too hot. Nature is never static. If it were, our job as producers would be much easier. As it is, we lay out our plans then inevitably have to adapt as Mother Nature throws one curve ball after another our way. Did anyone foresee the late season army-worm menace we dealt with this year?

Producers work in a dynamic system that seldom repeats itself. In doing so, we learn to be adaptive, to build resilience into our production and planning, and try to spread our eggs out amongst several different baskets. When you take time to look back this year on the challenges and successes, try to see where adapting to a problem worked or how a bit more flexibility next year could keep an issue from arising. Leave the normal and average comparisons out.


Looking back at last year’s forage management and production can help us learn what to improve to make it better this year. Stick around and I’ll give you some ideas to consider.

Some of you may have planted a winter annual forage to graze this spring. If so, manage grazing so there is not the temptation to begin grazing perennial grass pastures too early this spring. This will help give them some additional rest and early forage production. You might also consider frost-seeding legumes, such as red clover, in February through mid-March to boost the yield and improve the quality without adding additional nitrogen fertilizer.

When did your pastures run out? Was it mid-summer? late-summer? or fall? Remember that you have plenty of annual forage options to fill any gaps — there are few common ones that can be very productive. Forages like sudangrass and pearl millet can be planted from June until September and used to fill summer and fall forage gaps. Oats and turnip mixtures can be planted as early as mid-August and used to fill late-fall forage gaps.

Plant and use these annual forages when your other pastures have slow growth and are stressed so you have plenty of grazing for your cattle. Your regular pastures will bounce back quicker as well.

Several of you may have taken an extra cutting of alfalfa late in the fall because of excellent September and October growth. That hay was high quality, so it should be sold for a premium price or used for special feeding situations. This coming spring, though, it may start to grow a little slower. If so, let it begin to bloom before cutting.

We all can do better this year than we did last year. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to look back to learn what we hope to do better in the future. Have a Happy New Year!


Successful alfalfa production begins with proper decisions regarding cultivar selection; weeds/insects and diseases control; water management; and a good fertility program. Although some growers may still use 3 tons per acre as their alfalfa yield goal, many producers (especially irrigators) may now be using 6 or 9 tons per acre for their target yield goals.

Due to high fertilizer prices, soil testing will likely improve fertilizer return on investments for the upcoming growing season. Since alfalfa roots absorb most nutrients such as phosphate and potassium from the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, surface and shallow subsoil sampling will likely provide an adequate nutrient availability assessment.

Alfalfa is more sensitive to pH than other crops; and grows best at 6.8 soil pH with a pH range from 6.5 to 7.5. If alfalfa fields have low pH or strong acid content, then lime may be required to raise pH. Conversely, if lab results indicate high pH levels, then sulfur can be applied to help lower pH levels.

Alfalfa hay harvest removes about 55 pounds of potassium per ton of production. Potassium is also needed by alfalfa in high quantities and about one-third of Nebraska fields now test low for potassium. Phosphorus removal in alfalfa forage averages 12 pounds per ton of production. While sulfur and magnesium removal is about 5-6 pounds per ton of alfalfa produced.

To extend fertilizer investment dollars, consider topdressing nutrients immediately after forage harvest before regrowth resumes. Split apply fertilizer applications with topdress fertilization following first cutting and in early September to increase winter hardiness.


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